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The Conservative Blind Spot

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It was just a few months ago that conservatives came to the defense of the Christian-owned Chick-fil-A restaurant chain after its president, Dan Cathy, said the company was “guilty as charged” in its opposition to same-sex marriage. Now it is the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby Stores and its fight against Obamacare.

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., from its humble beginnings in founder David Green’s garage in 1970, has grown from one 300-square-foot store in 1972 to 525 stores in 42 states in 2012. The company, which employs about 13,000 people, has become one of the nation’s leading arts-and-crafts retailers.

“It is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured,” says founder and CEO David Green. “Therefore we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

But according to Green, included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) is something that will force his company to dishonor God by operating the company in a manner inconsistent with Biblical principles.

Obamacare includes not only the well-known “individual mandate” that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax, but also the lesser-known mandate that all group-health insurance plans must provide certain “preventive services” at no cost to those they insure. After announcing a general list of those services in September 2010, the government asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to recommend a list of “preventive services for women.” Although religious groups urged the IOM to not include sterilization and contraceptive services in their recommendation, the IOM did it anyway. The Department of Health and Human Services then decreed in the summer of 2011 that the “preventive services” mandate included “all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

Because approved FDA contraceptive methods include drugs and devices that may prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb, Hobby Lobby and other religious organizations that oppose the use abortion-inducing drugs and devices have sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the “preventive services” mandate.

There is a religious exemption from the mandate, but it is so narrow that neither Mother Teresa’s charity nor Jesus’ ministry would be exempt because they didn’t “primarily employ and serve those who share their faith.”

On September 12 of this year, because it could not get an exemption Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in opposition to the “preventive services” mandate that will cost the company up to $1.3 million per day in fines if it refuses to comply. The lawsuit alleged that the mandate “illegally and unconstitutionally coerces the Green family to violate their deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties, and lawsuits” and “forces the Green family to facilitate government-dictated speech incompatible with their own speech and religious beliefs.”

There are now 40 cases and more than 110 plaintiffs challenging the Health and Human Services mandate, which takes effect on January 1, 2013.

In a 28-page ruling issued just before Thanksgiving, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton denied Hobby Lobby’s request for “declaratory and injunctive relief” against the mandate. Hobby Lobby has now filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Since the appeal was filed, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has, in the case of O’Brien v. HHS, issued an injunction that temporarily blocks the Department of Health and Human Services from implementing Obamacare’s contraception mandate until the court issues a substantive ruling on the matter. A federal district court judge in October had previously dismissed O’Brien’s claim at the request of the Obama administration.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with conservatives’ defending traditional values, patronizing businesses that are Christian-owned, or opposing the mandates of Obamacare. I myself — a libertarian — have done all of those things. But conservatives have a blind spot when it comes to most government mandates that don’t concern religion.

The federal government mandates that employers must pay their employees at least $7.25 per hour. Yet most conservatives support minimum-wage legislation. In fact, the only difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to the minimum wage is how much it should be and how often it should be raised.

The federal government mandates that employers must pay an unemployment tax of 6.0 percent on the first $7,000 of the wages of each of their employees. Yet most conservatives support unemployment-compensation laws on the federal and state levels. Conservatives in Congress have even voted to extend unemployment benefits.

The federal government mandates that employers must pay the Social Security tax of 6.2 percent, and employees must pay the Social Security tax of 4.2 percent, on employee wages up to $110,100. The federal government also mandates that employers and employees must each pay the Medicare tax of 1.45 percent on employee wages of any amount. Yet most conservatives defend the Social Security and Medicare programs just as vocally as liberals.

The federal government mandates that all cars and trucks sold in the United States meet certain Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Yet most conservatives fully support the federal government’s setting those standards. In fact, it was the “conservative” George W. Bush who signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which set a national fuel-economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 to reduce demand for foreign oil. Like the minimum wage, the only difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to CAFE standards is how much they should be and how often they should be raised.

The federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), issues hundreds of mandates every year. Yet most conservatives seem to notice or care about only the most egregious of them. For example, earlier this year, after the EPA established Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to cap toxin emissions from coal-fired power plants, the conservative senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a joint resolution (S. J. Res. 37) to nullify the regulations because they will destroy jobs in the coal industry and raise the cost of electricity for consumers. The Republican vote in favor of the resolution was 41-5. Yet, how many of those Republicans — most of whom campaign on how conservative they are — consider the EPA to be an unconstitutional agency dangerous to liberty and property, and one that should be abolished immediately and entirely? How many of them would vote to rescind all of the mandates that the EPA has issued since it was created in 1970?

Libertarians have no blind spots. They would argue that there should be no government mandates concerning health insurance, taxes, the auto industry, or the environment — none whatsoever. Because they have neither illusions about the nature of government nor misconceptions about the proper role of government, libertarians alone are consistent when it comes to government mandates. Because the only purpose of governments, should they exist at all, is to protect their citizens’ lives, liberty, and property from the violence or fraud of others, libertarians oppose government mandates of any kind, not just “bad” mandates or “excessive” mandates or mandates that concern religion.

Conservatives are right to criticize Obamacare mandates, but — because of their blind spot — that doesn’t mean that they favor medical freedom.

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